Friday, September 11, 2015

Apple Pie Abecedaries

A apple pie
Fall is in the air, and with it, the beginning of a new academic year and the arrival of apple season. While brainstorming autumnal-themed entries, I came across several books about apples, and eventually realized that there was a strange current running through these books.

They were all alphabet books, or abecedaries, that began with an apple pie and ran through all the letters until the pie was eaten. To my surprise, the  "Apple Pie ABC" is actually a famous nursery rhyme. The first version of the rhyme was published in the late-eighteenth century in England and became wildly popular in English-speaking countries by the nineteenth century.

Tragical death of an apple PYEOne of the earliest versions in our collection comes in the form of a miniature chapbook. The final few pages are dedicated to "the Tragical Death of an APPLE-PYE." Rather dramatic, though I later realized that it would indeed be a tragedy from the pie's point of view.

In this rhyme, all the letters in the alphabet want to eat a single apple pie, but unless they establish an order, there won't be any pie for some of the less-greedy letters. Curiously enough, the rhyme includes "&" as the final letter, for a total of 27 letters, unlike the 26 we think of today.

The late nineteenth century brought a fantastically illustrated version by Kate Greenaway. This edition centers around a group of children, each named after a letter, and their adventures with a massive apple pie. They are alternately polite (D dealt it) and wicked (F fought for It). G is perhaps my favorite letter, showing a boy with a stick beating off the other children, who drop their plates as they run away. Greenaway skimps out on the end of the alphabet, declaring "UVWXYZ all had a large slice and went off to bed."

To read more about the tragic demise of the apple "pye," ask for Miniature 147. We have several versions of Kate Greenaway's book, including a first edition and a 1978 reprint, demonstrating the rhyme's enduring popularity.

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